This dictionary of French pastry terms will help you navigate French pastry recipes with translations for commonly used baking terms.
Over the years, not only have I worked as a recipe developer, but sometimes I also translate recipes from French to English, or from English to French for companies because I am bilingual, having grown up in Montreal, Quebec, and because I studied pastry at Le Cordon Bleu, where they taught us the French pastry terminology. Here's a dictionary of common French baking terms and pastry terminology that you may encounter the more you read recipes and bake with professional recipes. I hope you may find this list useful and I will update whenever I can!
abaisse is a sheet of rolled out dough, so if you are making a single crust pie, your recipe would call for "1 abaisse."
appareil is the French term for a batter.
babeurre is the term for buttermilk, but sometimes, it's also called "lait de beurre," which is the literal translation for buttermilk.
bain marie is the French term for water bath, either a double boiler setup on the stove like you might use to make a crème anglaise, custards, and curds. Bain marie can also refer to a water bath you would use to bake a cheesecake gently in the oven, setting the springform pan in a larger pan filled with boiling water, halfway up the springform.
beurre is butter in French.
beurre doux is unsalted butter.
beurre noisette is brown butter (or browned butter) which you can make by heating up butter in a small saucepan to melt it, then cooking it until the milk solids brown, giving off a nutty aroma similar to toasted hazelnuts. Beurre noisette is often used to flavour madeleines and financiers, but not always.
beurre salé is salted butter.
bicarbonate de soude is French for baking soda or sodium bicarbonate (as the British call it).
biscuit is a term that can mean cookie or it can also mean cake, specifically sponge cakes. For example, a "biscuit roulé" is a rolled sponge cake.
blanchir is a very important French pastry term, but unfortunately, I have yet to come across an exact word to translate to in English. When you are making crème pâtissière (pastry cream), one of the first steps is "blanchir les œufs avec le sucre" and it is SO IMPORTANT! To do this, you whisk the eggs (or the yolks) with part of the sugar in the recipe and you whip the mixture until the yellow yolks become very light and paler in colour, almost white. The word "blanc" means white and so translating word-for-word, "blanchir" means "to whiten." This step is done to ensure that the sugar doesn't burn the yolks, leading to little flecks of seemingly cooked yolk that would create imperfections in a smooth pastry cream.
boulangerie is the French term for a bread bakery or a bakery specialized in bread. The bread baker is called a "boulanger"
brioche is a buttery, yeasted bread made from a yeasted dough that is enriched with both butter and eggs, and sometimes milk too. Because brioche dough is enriched, it takes a lot more kneading. You can easily make homemade brioche with a stand mixer. And don't forget to use leftover brioche to make bostock with almond cream!
bûche de Noël is the French term for the rolled Christmas cake that is decorated to resemble a Yule log.
cassis is French for (black) currant, those round berries that look a lot like blueberries and that can also be red or even white. Cassis is a very common flavour in Europe, more so than in North America. If you want to bake something with currants, try these red currant muffins.
cassonade is the French word for brown sugar.
chemiser is the French verb that describes lining a pan. You can use parchment paper to line a pan, for example.
choux à la crème are cream puffs made from baked pâte à choux and filled with whipped cream.
cL is the abbreviation for centilitres, which many of you might be familiar, but Europeans often use centilitres instead of millilitres so I thought this would be a good opportunity to remind you that 10 mL is 1 cL, and 100 mL is 10 cL.
confiture is the French term for jam.
crème anglaise is an egg yolk thickened custard sauce. Crème anglaise is also the custard base for most ice creams! Here's a recipe for coffee crème anglaise to get you started. It's a great sauce to serve with bread pudding and it's the custard base to make ice cream.
crème d'amande is an almond cream filling made with equal parts of ground almond, butter, icing sugar, and flour, by weight. The filling includes an egg to help bind and thicken the almond cream. You can adapt the recipe with other nuts, like ground pistachios in this galette des rois. This is also what you use to make bostock!
crème fouettée is whipped cream, which you can sweeten with icing sugar (usually 10 % icing sugar by weight) and flavour with vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste. I've mixed greek yogurt to whipped cream to make the tangy topping for this strawberry and cream tart. Whipped cream makes a great topping for this simple gluten-free buckwheat chocolate cake.
crème fraîche is a cultured product made from cream. It is very similar to sour cream but has a higher fat content. Some brands make crème fraîche that has a fat content around 41 % (remember sour cream is usually 14 % fat), which is why it makes a great ingredient to incorporate into cakes and muffins (like these low sugar blueberry bran muffins) instead of sour cream, bringing that acidity but also a good amount of fat.
crème pâtissière is pastry cream, which can be infused with vanilla bean, vanilla bean paste, or vanilla extract. Start with this vanilla bean pastry cream recipe, which you can infuse with many other flavours like orange zest.
crème sûre is French for sour cream
croissants are a crescent-shaped flaky yeasted pastry. Croissants dough (pâte à croissant) is what you use to make many viennoiseries, like pain au chocolat, croissant aux amandes, etc. Croissants take a lot of work because the layers are built up with repeated rolling and folding of the dough, and if you are motivated, you can make homemade croissants.
cuillère à soupe (abbreviation c. à soupe or c. à s.) is French for a tablespoon. Remember in North America, 1 tablespoon is 15 mL.
cuillère à thé (abbreviation c. à thé or c. à t.) is French for teaspoon. It's sometimes also called a "cuillère à café." In North America, 1 teaspoon is 5 mL.
dorure is French for egg wash that is brushed on, though it could also be milk or cream...
émonder refers to the act of peeling nuts, for example. If a recipe tells you to "monder les pistaches," they are telling you to peel the pistachios.
farine is French for flour, and this is obviously an essential baking ingredient. A recipe may call for farine tout usage (all purpose), farine à gâteau (cake flour), farine à pâtisserie (pastry flour), or even farine à pain (bread flour).
fécule de maïs is cornstarch.
financiers are dense little cakes made with ground almond and browned butter, but you can use any nut to make them and you can skip the browning of the butter if you are in a hurry. Financiers cakes tend to have quite a bit of sugar which gives them their texture. If you'd like to give them a try, you can make berry financiers, kiwi coconut financiers, and even gluten-free chestnut financiers or gluten-free pistachio financiers. You can also make financiers with tahini, like these sesame kumquat financiers.
fonçage is the term to describe when you line a tart pan with tart dough, or the act of covering any pan with dough.
frangipane is very similar to almond cream. In fact, the difference isn't always clear. In pastry school, we were taught that frangipane was made from almond cream mixed with crème pâtissière (pastry cream). However, many bakers in North America actually call almond cream as frangipane, so to some, frangipane is a mixture of butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and ground almond.
galette can either be an open faced, free-form pie, like this apple galette or these mini raspberry galettes.
galette des rois refers to a free form tart made from puff pastry with an almond cream filling. This galette des rois can also be made with ground pistachios.
ganache is a filling or coating made of chocolate and cream. You can make milk chocolate ganache and use it as a filling for a raspberry chocolate tart, or a dark chocolate ganache as a filling for a rhubarb chocolate tart. Ganache is set to make truffles, like these Earl Grey lavender chocolate truffles.
garniture in French can refer to either the filling or the topping, which is a bit confusing at times.
génoise is a sponge cake made from whipped eggs, sugar, and flour. The whipped eggs act as a leavening agent, so you don't use baking powder or baking soda when you make a génoise. The technique is similar to the British warm milk sponge cake, which also calls for eggs whipped with sugar. You can make a chocolate génoise if you replace a portion of the flour with cocoa powder and this is the base cake for a black forest cake, called "gâteau forêt noire" in French.
gougères are made from pâte à choux combined with shredded cheese before baking, yielding savoury cheese puffs.
lait is milk in French whereas lait de poule is eggnog.
levure is the French word for yeast. You can buy "levure sèche instantanée" (instant yeast) or "levure sèche active (active yeast).
levure chimique is the term for chemical leaveners in French, but specifically refers to baking powder and is often sold in little individual packets in France.
macarons are French confections made from ground almond, egg whites, and sugar. They are filled with ganache and sandwiched. Remember the difference between macarons vs macaroons (which are made with shredded coconut)
madeleines are sweet little cakes baked in a madeleine pan to give them their signature seashell shape. Madeleines should have a hump on the top (the opposite side of the crinkled shell pattern side). The hump (called "la bosse") comes from the temperature shock between the cold batter and the hot oven, which allows the madeleines to rise up fast before the crumb sets. Madeleines are traditionally orange-flavoured, incorporating orange zest in the batter, but you can also infused them with other flavours, like these jasmine tea madeleines.
Maizena is what the French call cornstarch. The other word for they may use is "fécule de maïs."
masquer is the French verb for "to frost" so when a recipe says to "masquer le gâteau," you are coating the outside of a layer cake with frosting.
mise en place is the term used to describe putting all the ingredients in place before you start cooking or baking. With most recipes, though it's not written, you should always do your "mise en place" before you do anything else!
monter is the verb for whipping to stiff peaks. A meringue recipe may indicate to "monter les blancs d'œufs," meaning whip the egg whites. Monter literally translates to "to go up," like "monter les escaliers" means "go up the stairs." When you know this, you can understand where "monter les blancs d'œufs" comes from because you whisk the egg whites to incorporate air into them, a leavening agent, which causes the whites to increase in volume and rise up. You can also use this term for cream: "monter la crème fouettée."
nappe la cuillère is the French term for when a sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon, like when you are thickening crème anglaise or ice cream bases.
neige literally translates from French to snow in English, but it actually refers to when you whip egg whites to stiff peaks that resemble snow.
noisettes are hazelnuts in French, also referred to as filbert nuts in English. Hazelnuts are the nut used to make nutella, but you can make nutella without hazelnuts if you are allergic to them (like me!).
œuf(s) is the word for egg(s) in French. The yolks are called jaune d'œuf (because yolks are yellow or jaune) and the whites are called blanc d'œuf.
pain is French for bread.
pain perdu translates to French toast, but it literally means "lost bread" because traditionally, you would make pain perdu to salvage the stale bread and transform it into something fresh and new. If you have thick slices of bread, did you know you can make stuffed brioche French toast?
papier sulfurisé or papier parchemin are the French baking terms for parchment paper. Depending on what region the recipe writer is from, one or the other may be used.
pâte is the word for dough in French, but plural, pâtes can also refer to pasta.
pâte à choux is an eggy dough that is used to make éclairs, cream puffs, and cheese gougères (cheese puffs)
pâte d'amandes is almond paste, which is quite similar to marzipan, a thick confection made from ground almond, sugar, and almond extract.
pâte sablée is a sweet dough also known as a sweet shortcrust. Pâte sablée and pâte sucrée are very similar, but the ratios are what set them apart.
pâte sucrée is the sweet cookie dough used to make fruit tarts like this raspberry chocolate tart. Pâte sucrée is made with flour and ground almond, so it's more delicate than other tart doughs because it has less gluten. Pâte sucrée is made with egg yolks and sometimes milk to bind the dough ingredients together and also add richness.
pâte à foncer is pie dough that you would use to make fruit pies, like this maple apple pie, maple syrup pie, or this rhubarb lattice pie. You can even use pâte à foncer to make savoury pies, like this bacon and egg pie. The nice thing about pâte à foncer is not sweet so it is very versatile.
pâte feuilletée is French for puff pastry. You can buy puff pastry in most grocery stores. Just make sure it's made with butter only (and not hydrogenated fats). You can also make homemade puff pastry, if you have time.
pâtisserie is the French term for pastry but also the French word for pastry shop. The pastry chef is called the chef pâtissier or pâtissier.
pots de crème is an egg-thickened pudding, unlike American puddings, like butterscotch pudding, that is thickened with cornstarch. Pots de crème are often made with chocolate which makes them extremely creamy and unctuous because of the cocoa butter. You can make pots de crème on the stove, like pudding, or you can make it in a bain marie.
poudre à pâte is baking powder. It's also called levure chimique, meaning chemical leavener.
poudre de cacao is cocoa powder in French.
quatre quarts is the name for the French pound cake made with ¼ butter, ¼ sugar, ¼ eggs, and ¼ flour by weight. Quatre quarts literally translates as four quarters.
quinconce is the word French pastry chefs use to describe how you stagger portions of cookie dough on a cookie sheet to allow for better airflow.
ruban is the term for the whipped eggs and sugar when you are making a sponge cake or génoise: it's the ribbon stage, where the mixture is so thick that as you lift the beaters, the whipped eggs trickle back down onto the surface forming a stable ribbon for a few seconds before it disappears.
saupoudrer means to sprinkle. For example, when you finish a dessert by sprinkling with powdered sugar, that's translated to "saupoudrer de sucre glace."
sucre is sugar in French.
sucre glace refers to icing sugar also called powdered sugar in English. In French, there are also a lot of different terms for this type of sugar, including "sucre à glacer" or "sucre en poudre," though this last one can also mean granulated sugar.
sucre semoule is granulated sugar.
tasse à mesurer is the French for cup measurer so when you are reading French recipes, you might come across measurements in your ingredient list like "1 tasse"(abbreviated as 1 T) or "½ tasse"(abbreviated as ½ T) which would mean 1 cup or ½ cup, for example. In North America, 1 cup is equivalent to 250 mL (or sometimes 237 mL).
vanner refers to the way you stir a crème anglaise or custard base, gently with a wooden spoon in a figure eight motion.
viennoiseries is a category of French pastry made from flaky croissant doughs, danish doughs, etc. Usually viennoiseries are what you would consume at breakfast.
yogourt is the French term for yogurt, but some also use the word "yaourt," depending on the region.
zestes is French for zests, meaning the finely grated peel of citrus fruit (like "zestes d'oranges" or "zestes de citron").
I hope that you will find this list of French baking terms and pastry terminology helpful. If there's a term I've forgotten or you need help with, please leave a comment below!
Mark Lewis says
Thank you very much for this expert list of vocab very useful as a FR > EN translator, currently working on this topic.
Frangipane has a cliff-hanger! It includes . . .
Whoops! Thanks for catching that! I updated frangipane to include the definition. To some, it's almond cream plus pastry cream, and to others, it's just almond cream. Depends on who you talk to, but I think professional pastry chefs refer to the mixture of almond cream plus pastry cream as real frangipane.